The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Date 18th November 2023
Society Richmond Operatic Society
Venue Richmond Georgian Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Jordan Hamiliton-Leighton
Musical Director Lara Vinsen
Choreographer Jordan Hamiliton-Leighton

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Author: Gordon Richardson

I have been travelling down to watch Richmond for almost half of its existence, having friends in the society, firstly watching them in the old ‘Zetland’ Theatre and latterly in the wonderful Georgian Theatre. I’ve never seen a bad show and so it was with a great deal of expectation, and yet a little trepidation, I travelled to see a show first done in the region in a large professional theatre with massive set. How would it transfer to a theatre with such a small footprint and limited entrances and exits?

Under the superb and innovative direction and choreography of Jordan Hamilton-Leighton the production filled the stage with tremendous music, magical movement and incredible acting.
Firstly to the staging itself, small plinths allowed the ensemble to work on various levels and scene transitions were provided by moving projected videos allowing the audience a chance to imagine themselves as being in the cathedral, the belfry, the town square, prison, or court of miracles. One thing worthy of special mention was the transition of actors on stage by careful use of costume change – if you’ll excuse the pun – the costumes transitions were ‘seamless.’

Music was provided by backing tracks under the control of Digital MD Lara Vinsen. It is sometime difficult to synchronise libretto with song in backing tracks, but the ensemble and principals took this in their stride never faltering.

The story of the Hunchback is fairly well known, and this version is based on Disney’s adaptation of it. I admit I have never seen the animated version of the classic story from the pen of Victor Hugo but whenever you hear the name of ‘Hugo’ you know it will be spectacular & immense and so it proved to be. After a fairly long prologue of setting the scene with Latin songs underscored by the haunting melody of ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ the unbending Fr. Frollo (Kevin Murray) had taken on the role of ‘protector’ to his illegitimate nephew Quasimodo (Steven Berry) – a hideous ‘monster’. Kevin’s ‘Frollo’ was a masterclass of acting as the unbending priest with a dark almost sinister lust for ‘Esmeralda’. Kevins voice in his songs was just right and made the show. Steven’s ‘Quasimodo’ matched Kevin in the ‘masterclass’ stakes both with his singing which was outstanding and the stilted dialogue of one who is deaf and can’t hear his own voice. Both actors worked well together and their acting melded into a fantastic performance.

Quasimodo’s only ‘friends’ are stone gargoyles with whom he converses laying his thoughts and worries before them. The five Gargoyles really suited the roles with fine singing and acting – played by Natasha Aspden, Isla Henderson, Benji Wilson, Keeley Octon (also St. Aphrodisius) and Amy Fudali (also ‘Clopin’ Queen of the Gypsies) – their singing, acting and stage movement was just wonderful.

Returning from the army ‘Phoebus de Martin’ (Broday Laudon) disobeys what he sees as unjust orders as he falls in love with ‘Esmeralda’ (Maia Hughes) – both worked well together both in libretto and in songs, the prison scene song of ‘Someday’ being a particular favourite.

Most of the ensemble had a libretto line or two as well as a singing line or playing minor roles and consisted of Congregants, Revellers and Gypsies; Victoria Bennett (‘Florika’), Charles Lambert (‘Frederic Charlus’), Naomi Paterson (‘Official’), Nicola Stephenson (‘Madame’), Daniel Vickers, Naomi White, Julie Winn, and Gary Winn (‘Father Dupin’)

This production was the last of Richmond OS’s centenary year and boy, did they go out on a high. The production was slick, choreographed magnificently, vocally superb and wowed the audience.

Massive well done ROS.